What God Expects of Us

 John 21:15

Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord. And may listening hearts be open to your Holy Spirit that each might hear what you would have them hear. Amen.

Peace and love to you from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.

Today is Earth Day. "On April 22, 1970, Earth Day was held, one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy. . . "American Heritage Magazine, October 1993. Senator Gaylord Nelson was the Founder of Earth Day. Actually, the idea for Earth Day evolved over a period of seven years starting in 1962. All across the country, evidence of environmental degradation was appearing everywhere, and everyone noticed except the political establishment. The environmental issue simply was not to be found on the nation's political agenda. The people were concerned, but the politicians were not.

The idea that became Earth Day occurred to Senator Nelson while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. Suddenly, the idea occurred to him - why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?

At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, he announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and he invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air - and they did so with spectacular exuberance.

Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. The Senator and his staff had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself. (From an article by Senator G. Nelson, published online in "Envirolink")

The first Earth Day was in April of 1970. Second only to the US Government in being slow to get on the band wagon is the Church. It wasn't until August of 1993 that the ELCA came out with a Social Statement that dealt with "The Church's Vision of Creation." At least we got behind it, somewhat anyhow, back in 1993; some denominations are still struggling with whether it is a political issue or, amazingly, whether it is simply a NON-issue!!

The ELCA Statement begins, after an introduction, with a section titled: "God, Earth and All Creatures: We see the despoiling of the environment as nothing less than the degradation of God's gracious gift of creation.

"Scripture witnesses to God as creator of the earth and all that dwells therein (Ps 24:1). The creeds, which guide our reading of Scripture, proclaim God the Father of Jesus Christ as "maker of heaven and earth," Jesus Christ as the one "through [whom] all things were made," and the Holy Spirit as "the Lord, the giver of life" (Nicene Creed).

"God blesses the world and sees it as "good," even before humankind comes on the scene. All creation, not just humankind, is viewed as "very good" in God's eyes (Gen 1:31). God continues to bless the world.

"Humanity is intimately related to the rest of creation. We, like other creatures, are formed from the earth (Gen 2:7, 9, 19). Scripture speaks of humanity's kinship with other creatures (Job 38-39; Ps 104). We look forward to a redemption that includes all creation (Eph 1:10).

"Humans, in service to God, have special roles on behalf of the whole of creation. Made in the image of God, we are called to care for the earth as God cares for the earth. God's command to have dominion and subdue the earth is not a license to dominate and exploit. Human dominion (Gen 1:28; Ps 8), a special responsibility, should reflect God's way of ruling as a shepherd king who takes the form of a servant (Phil 2:7), wearing a crown of thorns.

"According to Gen 2:15, our role within creation is to serve and to keep God's garden, the earth. 'To serve,' often translated "to till," invites us again to envision ourselves as servants, while "to keep" invites us to take care of the earth as God keeps and cares for us (Num 6:24-26).'" (From the ELCA Social Statement on Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, Justice)

Powerful stuff. And the ELCA is really just getting behind this recognition of Earth Day. This year is the most I have ever seen in terms of ideas and resource material available from the national offices of the ELCA.

And what about us individually and as a congregation? Why aren't we better stewards than we are? Why haven't we yet, as a congregation, formed some sort of policy with regard to our use of resources and our use of renewable resources? Why do we still use Styrofoam and plastic, neither of which we use is recyclable. It's so easy to not have to do dishes. It's so easy to just pitch it all in the trash. And it's material that does not break down over years and become part of the earth.

What about at home? It's so easy to recycle, but most folks don't. Some do major things, but don't pay attention to details. Well, details count. We are quick to blame industry and the industrial-technological complex, but we ourselves are responsible for pollution and degradation of God's creation. We don't care for it like we should. It takes effort, and we take the easy way out, the short cuts. We are not willing to sacrifice anything-not our time, our pleasure, our energy and certainly not our money.

And we don't care for each other like we should, either. Today's lesson is so clear as to what Jesus expects of us. Elsewhere he speaks of those whom God favors who have given water to those who thirst, visited those in prison, clothed the naked. But here it is so personal: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. If you say you love me, then show it, is what he is saying. Jesus doesn't want lip service to show our love for him. He wants love in action.

There are so many opportunities through this church, the body of Jesus Christ on earth, to do what Jesus expects of us. But people come week after week expecting only to be nourished here. You are here to be fed, nourished, filled. Yes, all of those. You are here to give thanks, give praise to God. Yes, those also.

But people take from worship. What do people GIVE to worship? What do you GIVE to God by giving to others through being here in worship? Do you come to worship or to judge others? Do you come to worship or criticize-the people, the children, the music, the hymns, the heat, the air conditioning, the sermon? What are YOU giving to worship? What are you giving to others who are here?

We certainly can have 'sad' days, but underlying even the 'sad' days should be a joy that nothing can take away-no person, no situation. You need to come here and express joy. You need to give something to the others who are here. You can pray for them, you can joyfully greet them, but you need to give them more than that. You need to give from your heart in worship. Joy, love, peace, hope-all gifts of the Spirit-are infectious. They are the invisible gifts we have to give one another. But you can't do that if you're here only to take. If you're here only to complain or criticize. If you're here to talk lack. Abundance cannot come to you if you have your mind set on lack. Do you remember what I said last week? You'll see it when you believe it.

Take care of God's earth. Take care of one another. The Bible is our guide and it tells us over and over and over to do that. Yet we abuse the earth and each other. We are not willing to sacrifice anything in caring for the earth or each other. And yet, Jesus gave his life in sacrifice for us. And then, through his overcoming death, we have the promise of eternal life. If we're grateful, if we love God, if we love God's creation, if we love God's people, God's children, if we know we are made in the image of God to be caretakers, we have a very odd way of showing it!

Many, maybe most of you, will leave here and not change a thing in your life with respect to the environment or others. But as a congregation, I'm going to do my best as your spiritual leader, and with the help of the Confirmation students, to make this congregation, at the very least, begin to be responsible stewards in the use of the products here-the sorts of supplies we purchase and the way we dispose of and recycle materials. No matter how inconvenient it might be.

Jesus didn't consider it inconvenient to die for us-we can at least put up with a little inconvenience in being caretakers for God's creation and for one another. We're paying the price environmentally and in proliferation of diseases for all those before us who didn't take their caretaking job very seriously-let's not make it even worse for our children.


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